I was a HUGE fan of Larry Hama’s GIJOE comic, published throughout the 80s by Marvel. The title actually continued on into the early 90s as well, but by then it was well past its prime. I remember I checked out at some point when Claremont’s X-Books overtook Joe in the battle for my allowance and my attention span, somewhere around issue #119 or so. But even then, in 1991 at 15 years old I had a serious case of fan inertia with the book. Conceptually I still loved GIJOE, not the toy but some of the bigger ideas Mr. Hama floated through the book. Many of those ideas were personified by the Ninja characters and arcs of the book, but also things like the town of Springfield – state unknown – where Cobra had an entire American small town under its influence. Or strange serendipity that coated characters like Cobra Commander, his son Billy and various other peripheral characters, many of whom suffered some pretty messed up fates, not in a gross or graphic way, but in a way that made me psychologically wonder about the world I lived in. A great example of that was the Commander himself, who went through several diametric changes over the course of the book, and may have been my first encounter with a non-black and white bad guy in a comic, even if he eventually did kind of get reset into a very black and white caricature. But despite all this, I’d be lying if I didn’t say the main impetus for my aforementioned checking out was the infamous issue issue #109, where, after what I’d imagine were endless complaints over the years of Joe members surviving situations simply because the editorial bullpen seemed hesitant to kill off any characters with corresponding action figure equity, the book suddenly introduced a new character that kills a large dose of JOEs in one fell swoop. And wouldn’t you know it, all older, out-dated and admittedly kind of ‘blah’ characters to begin with. The way I’ve always looked at it in hindsight is Hama being pushed and pulled between killing and not killing, finally receiving a editorial edict to kill some and then just basically putting up his middle finger and saying ‘fine, you want me to kill a bunch of ‘unimportant characters? Fuck you, there it is” way.
Unceremonious doesn’t even begin to describe it. Not that I blame Larry Hama. No, far from it. By that time I’m pretty sure the book had more than run its course – for both the fans and their original writer. GIJOE and its popularity had shored up a solid rep for Larry Hama in comics and it brought him work. Better work. By the time the SAW Viper emerged Hama was already writing Wolverine, one of Marvel’s hottest books. And for perspective, this was back when Wolverine was still gaining popularity in the comics world, not yet outside it. Logan was less attractive then, certainly no Hugh Jackman, but although he, like the X-Men, had yet to become a household name outside of households that read comics – in that insular world he was king. And his first on-going solo book was what he deserved: good. Great after Hama picked it up, both in content and sales numbers. I’ve written about that run before, and looking at it now, the idea that Mr. Hama was doing JOE and Wolverine, well, it just makes me wonder if he was only still with JOE because he’d been there from the beginning and couldn’t stand to see it pass to anyone else.
Does that sound like I might be reaching? Maybe, but it wouldn’t be that different from Chris Claremont working himself tot he bone to write every off-shoot of the Uncanny X-Men through most of the early and mid 80s (before that the X-Men weren’t really popular enough to warrant much in the way of spin-off books. Not continuous ones anyway. That however is a topic for a future column) And like Claremont had been the singular creator since the floundering X-Men had a makeover with Giant Sized X-Men #1, Hama had been with JOE from the beginning, even as the creator of those nifty file cards on the back of the cards the action figures were packaged on. So why wouldn’t he want to stick it out, despite the fact that, as he’s discussed in several interview before, the being a licensed property meant not having full creative control.
I could theorize all night, but any way you slice it, GIJOE: A REAL AMERICAN HERO issue #109 and the SAW Viper were pretty lame, and they made what could have been a truly epic moment in an up-til-then great comic pretty trite and toss-worthy. But hey, all good things do indeed come to an end.
Shawn lives in Los Angeles where he co-hosts Drinking w/ Comics, writes screenplays and fiction and has been known to drink quite a bit of beer. Good beer.